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Prince Rupert's Pacific LNG project faces new challenge

Gitxsan First Nation says it was not consulted on Prince Rupert gas pipeline
Richard Wright is a spokesman for Luutkudziiwus, a 600-member house group of the Gitxsan Nation. The group will file a legal challenge against the proposed Prince Rupert Gas Transmission pipeline which they say will decimate wild salmon in the Skeena as it crosses 34 km of its traditional territory.

The province faces a new First Nations legal challenge to an element of the Pacific Northwest Liquefied Natural Gas project just as it prepares to open its major annual conference aimed at promoting the prospects of its still nascent industry.

A group within the Gitxsan First Nation says it will apply to the B.C. Supreme Court for a judicial review seeking to overturn the provincial environmental certificate and Oil and Gas Commission construction approval for the TransCanada Prince Rupert Gas Transmission Line on the basis they were not consulted, said group spokesman Richard Wright.

"They're not talking to the right people, the people who actually own the land," Wright said in an interview, referring to consultations that took place with the Gitxsan Development Corp. during the environmental assessment for the $5-billion, 900-kilometre pipeline project associated with the Petronas-backed Pacific NorthWest LNG proposal.

The case highlights a rift between the Gitxsan Treaty Society (which includes the development corporation) and hereditary house groups within the Gitxsan First Nation.

The announcement coincides with the opening day of the province's three-day LNG in B.C. conference at the Vancouver Convention Centre.

Among the 19 LNG proposals being considered in B.C., Pacific NorthWest LNG is the major project closest to receiving a green light. In June, its proponents got provisional approval for the project, subject to receiving federal environmental approval.

However, the project also has First Nations concerns to resolve that remain outstanding.

In September, the Lax Kw'alaams signalled their intent to lay claim to Lelu Island, and community leader Gary Reece, who uses the title of mayor, said they were doing so because the community wasn't being listened to about the need to find an alternate site.

The Lax Kw'alaams aren't opposed to the project, but do take issue with the potential impact of its terminal facilities on Flora Bank, a rich inter-tidal zone at the mouth of the Skeena River, critical rearing habitat for all the river's major salmon runs.

"The reason we're launching the territorial claim is to clarify who owns this territory and what the federal and provincial obligations are to the territory's owners," Reece said.

On Tuesday, Wright said his house group, known as Luutkudziiwus, hasn't taken a position on the pipeline project, but until it gets what it considers to be adequate consultation, "we cannot allow it."

Wright said they will be arguing the landmark ruling in the Supreme Court of Canada's Delgamuukw case gives the authority over title to Gitxsan house groups.

"The remedy we're looking for is an order to be consulted at the house-group level," Wright said.

Wright said the house group has blocked access to its territory, including 34 kilometres of the Prince Rupert Gas Transmission pipeline's right of way for 14 months over the consultation issue.

"We don't want to be served with an injunction and fighting an injunction (over access)," Wright said. "We're confident that what we're doing is right, and we're going to take (government) on in your legal arena."